You don’t have to be a fireplace and chimney expert to have and enjoy a fireplace. After a long summer and a mild fall, you may not be used to using your fireplace on a regular basis. It’s important to practice fire safety year-round, but especially in winter. There are more residential house fires in January than any other month. You can bring down the fire risk in your home when you’re proactive.
Your fireplace will not be safe if your chimney isn’t. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends routine maintenance and annual inspections for the safest and most efficient chimney system. Actually, when the chimney is most efficient, it is at its safest. If you haven’t scheduled a chimney sweep or inspection in the last 12 months, now is the time! You may be using an unsafe chimney that puts your family and home at risk.
A Safe Fireplace
If your chimney system has been inspected and is in good shape, it’s important to operate your fireplace properly.
- Get to know your system. Read all manuals and information provided by your manufacturer or chimney professional. Knowing your chimney anatomy is half the battle.
- Burn the best fuel. You should only burn properly seasoned firewood. Do not burn trash, clothes, or other materials in your fireplace. Leaves, pine needles, and other light items (such as paper) can rise up the chimney while aflame, leading to flue fires and even yard or roof fires.
- Use proper tools. There are toolsets that you can purchase and use for your fireplace needs. These tools are long-handled to prevent burn and should be well-made from durable metal. In addition to the tools, you can use leather gloves for added protection.
- Remove ashes regularly. Too many ashes can make it difficult to light your fire, keep a fire lit, and can become crowded—causing coals and logs to fall out of the hearth! When you remove ashes, use a sturdy, metal bucket, protect your hands with gloves, and use an appropriate shovel. Dispose of ashes away from your house and allow to cool away from fire hazards.
- Practice fire safety. Keep decorations away from the hearth. Do not leave children unattended around a fire or still-warm fireplace. Make sure your fire is completely extinguished before leaving the house or going to sleep. Use the damper properly to prevent smoke inhalation/carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Make a fire-escape plan. You can do everything possible to prevent a fire, but sometimes they are inevitable. Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors—checking batteries regularly. Plan an escape (including 2 ways out) and practice it regularly with the entire family.
If a Fire Occurs . . .
If your home is affected by a fire, escape is the #1 priority. Do not fight a fire with an extinguisher. Extinguishers are for small fires and can assist with a safe escape, but the best way to salvage your property is to call the authorities. Keep your phone and car keys together near a door. Include them in your escape plan so that you can sit in a warm car while you call the fire department.